134 THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING myself a trust in you so deep, deeper than I'd ever imagined possible." Finally a computer operator in his forties said: "You have been such a wonderful mirror for me, and you show me two things: the relative aspect of who I am, and the absolute aspect of who I am. I can look at you and see—not because of who you are but because of what you are mirroring back to me—all of my relative confusion, very clearly. But I can also look at you and I can see, reflected in you, the nature of mind, out of which everything is arising, moment by moment." These replies show us that true teachers are kind, compassionate, and tireless in their desire to share whatever wisdom they have acquired from their masters, never abuse or manipulate their students under any circumstances, never under any circumstances abandon them, serve not their own ends but the greatness of the teachings, and always remain humble. Real trust can and should only grow toward someone who you come to know, over time, embodies all these qualities. You will find that this trust becomes the ground of your life, there to support you through all the difficulties of life and death. In Buddhism we establish whether a teacher is authentic by whether or not the guidance he or she is giving accords with the teaching of Buddha. It cannot be stressed too often that it is the truth of the teaching which is all-important, and never the personality of the teacher. This is why Buddha reminded us in the "Four Reliances": Rely on the message of the teacher, not on his personality; Rely on the meaning, not just on the words; Rely on the real meaning, not on the provisional one; Rely on your wisdom mind, not on your ordinary, judgmental mind. So it is important to remember that the true teacher, as we shall see, is the spokesperson of the truth: its compassionate "wisdom display." All the buddhas, masters, and prophets, in fact, are the emanations of this truth, appearing in countless skillful, compassionate guises in order to guide us, through their teaching, back to our true nature. At first, then, more important than finding the teacher is finding and following the truth of the teaching, for it is through making a connection with the truth of the teaching that you will discover your living connection with a master.
HOW TO FOLLOW THE PATH THE SPIRITUAL PATH 135 We all have the karma to meet one spiritual path or another, and I would encourage you, from the bottom of my heart, to follow with complete sincerity the path that inspires you most. Read the great spiritual books of all the traditions, come to some understanding of what the masters might mean by liberation and enlightenment, and find out which approach to absolute reality really attracts and suits you most. Exercise in your search as much discernment as you can; the spiritual path demands more intelligence, more sober understanding, more subtle powers of discrimination than any other discipline, because the highest truth is at stake. Use your common sense at every moment. Come to the path as humorously aware as possible of the baggage you will be bringing with you: your lacks, fantasies, failings, and projections. Blend, with a soaring awareness of what your true nature might be, a down-to-earth and level-headed humility, and a clear appreciation of where you are on your spiritual journey and what still remains to be understood and accomplished. The most important thing is not to get trapped in what I see everywhere in the West, a "shopping mentality": shopping around from master to master, teaching to teaching, without any continuity or real, sustained dedication to any one discipline. Nearly all the great spiritual masters of all traditions agree that the essential thing is to master one way, one path to the truth, by following one tradition with all your heart and mind to the end of the spiritual journey, while remaining open and respectful toward the insights of all others. In Tibet we used to say, "Knowing one, you accomplish all." The modern faddish idea that we can always keep all our options open and so never need commit ourselves to anything is one of the greatest and most dangerous delusions of our culture, and one of ego's most effective ways of sabotaging our spiritual search. When you go on searching all the time, the searching itself becomes an obsession and takes you over. You become a spiritual tourist, bustling about and never getting anywhere. As Patrul Rinpoche says, "You leave your elephant at home and look for its footprints in the forest." Following one teaching is not a way of confining you or jealously monopolizing you. It's a compassionate and skillful way of keeping you centered and always on the path, despite all the obstacles that you and the world will inevitably present.